Lucky Dogs

  • Review
By – December 18, 2023

In a sto­ry with chill­ing real-world par­al­lels, Mered­ith, a drug-addled Hol­ly­wood star­let, has been raped by a pow­er­ful Hol­ly­wood mogul who has the pow­er to make or break her career. When she decides to speak out against The Rug,” as she calls him, Hol­ly­wood pre­dictably clos­es ranks against her. And after a spec­tac­u­lar pub­lic melt­down involv­ing a spate of ill-advised Twit­ter rants, she escapes to Paris.

Hid­ing out in the City of Lights, Mered­ith is res­cued by the suave and attrac­tive Nina dur­ing a threat­en­ing encounter with a cou­ple of boor­ish Amer­i­can busi­ness­men at a Parisian ice cream shop. Mered­ith becomes infat­u­at­ed with her sav­ior, and she even­tu­al­ly lets down her guard, shar­ing her sor­did his­to­ry and her tell-all mem­oir-in-progress. As the founder of an inter­na­tion­al women’s rights non­prof­it, Nina is per­fect­ly posi­tioned to pub­lish and pro­mote Meredith’s story.

Hew­ing close­ly to the Har­vey Wein­stein play­book, Nina is in fact an ex-Mossad oper­a­tive work­ing for an Israeli spy agency in the employ of The Rug, and has been engaged to uncov­er defam­a­to­ry infor­ma­tion about Mered­ith and sup­press her sto­ry. And Nina is not the head of a Euro­pean women’s rights orga­ni­za­tion. She is in truth Smadar (orig­i­nal­ly Sama­ra), a for­mer Bosn­ian refugee who was air­lift­ed to Israel as a child with her moth­er from their war-torn coun­try. They were res­cued by the grate­ful descen­dants of the fam­i­ly that her grand­par­ents had hid­den dur­ing the Holocaust.

The rela­tion­ship between the two women, who are pit­ted against one anoth­er by a misog­y­nis­tic pow­er struc­ture, is fas­ci­nat­ing to fol­low. As the action moves to Flori­da, where Mered­ith holes up with her men­tal­ly ill, neglect­ful moth­er in a sprawl­ing retire­ment devel­op­ment that recalls The Vil­lages, Mered­ith becomes a more for­mi­da­ble adver­sary than Smadar could’ve ever expected.

This twisty and pierc­ing nov­el chal­lenges the usu­al #MeToo nar­ra­tive, invit­ing sym­pa­thy and under­stand­ing for both women, as well as anger and dis­gust. A noto­ri­ous­ly unre­li­able nar­ra­tor, Mered­ith makes it clear to the read­er, if not to her­self, that she is often act­ing against her own best inter­ests; it can be frus­trat­ing to observe the unrav­el­ing of a nar­cis­sis­tic celebri­ty. And in the case of Smadar, it’s obvi­ous to the read­er that she has walled her­self off from human con­nec­tion as a sur­vival mech­a­nism. Once an aspir­ing actress her­self, Smadar sees Mered­ith as a lucky dog.” She has noth­ing but dis­dain for Meredith’s will­ing­ness to blow up her movie-star life rather than sim­ply mov­ing past her painful experience.

Alter­nat­ing chap­ters relate each woman’s point of view. Author Helen Schul­man bril­liant­ly adjusts her writ­ing style when mov­ing between these per­spec­tives, jux­ta­pos­ing Meredith’s first-per­son, gos­sipy con­fes­sion­al with Smadar’s dis­tant third-per­son nar­ra­tion. Some of the strongest writ­ing in the book can be found in Smadar’s back­sto­ry. In an ear­ly chap­ter describ­ing Smadar’s fam­i­ly life in Sara­je­vo before the war, the nar­ra­tor slips into a dis­ori­ent­ing, haunt­ing sec­ond per­son: Do you live in a beau­ti­ful city?”

In an author’s note, Schul­man explains that the Rose McGowan/​Harvey Wein­stein case — in which an under­cov­er ex-Mossad agent was hired to befriend McGowan — served as the inspi­ra­tion for the nov­el. Schul­man wrote it to inves­ti­gate a vex­ing conun­drum: how could one woman do this to anoth­er woman? These ful­ly imag­ined char­ac­ters go a long way toward answer­ing that question.

Lau­ren Gilbert is Direc­tor of Pub­lic Ser­vices at the Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry in New York City, where she man­ages the Lil­lian Gold­man Read­ing Room and Ack­man & Ziff Fam­i­ly Geneal­o­gy Insti­tute and arranges and mod­er­ates online book discussions.

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